When I was in seminary, I was introduced to the writing of Dorothee Soelle. The first of her books I was exposed to was Thinking About God. Since then I have had the chance to watch her writing evolve and as it has, it has helped me to evolve in my own life and journey. Her more recent book, The Silent Cry has influenced my own approach to the spiritual practice of leading a more simplistic and clutter free life.
So often, when people reflect on asceticism, they tend to think about this sense of denial and strict discipline of all indulgences. As Soelle reflected on this, it was not asceticism to the point of denial of all things, but the development of boundaries in our life, which prevent our soul from being devoured by clutter in our life. It is about finding balance in our lives as we work on simplifying and decluttering our lives. The impoverishment of our lives of all that feeds us is not healthy. At the same time, an overabundance can also impoverish the soul. It is hard for us to develop any kind of meaningful relationship with anything in our lives when we lack boundaries and balance.
Whenever I think about this process, I remember the story a colleague told me about her children and their overflowing toy boxes. One year she decided to have them donate their excess toys to a local children’s shelter. She wanted to teach them about giving. It seemed they were constantly getting new toys. They would play with them for a day or two and then lose interest. She said they could each keep two toys or games. The rest would be donated. They went through a process of deciding which toys were most meaningful and important to them. The rest they wrapped up and brought to a shelter to give to others.
This process of decluttering and simplifying is about helping us become more connected to the Creator and not the Creations, which we are so often bombarded with in our lives. The process of simplifying and decluttering can help us to form a more spiritually intimate relationship with the Divine and that which feeds our souls. As we go through this process, we come to realize that the ability to set boundaries and limits in our own lives assists us in maintaining our humanness, our humility, and our connection to the Divine.
Asceticism means that we engage in a form of fasting, which enhances our lives, by limiting what new can come into our bodies, lives, and spaces. This fasting is not necessarily about eating, but about not consuming things or opportunities. It is also about removing things from our physical spaces and lives, which are not an essential part of our lives and journey. It is through this process, which may seem counter cultural to many, that we will reveal the beauty in our homes, our hearts, and our souls.